Origin of 'No Jack Kennedy' Comment Disputed

Bob Shrum, in his new book, takes credit for the famous line delivered from Lloyd Bentsen's mouth to Dan Quayle: "Senator, I knew Jack Kennedy, and you're no Jack Kennedy." Plenty of folks disagree and claim the line was theirs. The truth about the lineage of the famous quote is hard to discern, especially now that Bentsen is gone. To paraphrase JFK himself, success has a thousand fathers; failure is an orphan — or did he say "bastard"?

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In 1961, when President John F. Kennedy was embarrassed by the failed attempt to invade Cuba, he made a famous comment.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: There's an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.

SIEGEL: We were reminded of that by a claim made in Bob Shrum's new book, "Serial Campaigner." Shrum, a veteran Democratic strategist, lays claim to probably the only memorable line uttered in a vice presidential debate, aside from Admiral Stockdale's opener.

It was 1988. Senator Dan Quayle was the Republican vice presidential nominee, and at 41, his age and experience were in question.

Senator DAN QUAYLE (Republican, Indiana): I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.

SIEGEL: To which the Democratic nominee, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, made the following memorable retort:

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

SIEGEL: Well, according to Bob Shrum, that line was no spontaneous brainstorm. He said it was worded, practiced and polished in debate rehearsals.

Mr. BOB SHRUM (Author, "Serial Campaigner"): I see myself as having come in to the debate, the very first practice we had and the first discussion I had with Senator Bentsen and saying Dan Quayle is going around comparing himself to JFK. Did you know JFK? And he said, not only did he know him, but he had served with him. And the line was developed over time. But the critical person in developing the line was Lloyd Bentsen.

SIEGEL: There are some other accounts. Lloyd Bentsen's widow, B.A., says her husband did not rehearse that line.

Ms. B.A. BENTSEN (Senator Lloyd Bentsen's Widow): I could just tell from the way he said it. It was quite a surprise to me. I was sitting in the audience. I know it was very much an offhanded comment.

SIEGEL: But Bentsen did rehearse for the debates and Dennis Eckart, then a Democratic congressman from Ohio, played the role of Quayle. Eckart said that he had seen Quayle cite JFK and he repeated that claim in their mock sessions.

Mr. DENNIS ECKART (Former Democratic Congressman, Ohio): I'm hard pressed to remember exactly who was all in the room at that time. But I don't remember that answer being written or scripted by Bob Shrum. My most fervently held memory of it is this visceral Bentsen reaction.

SIEGEL: Well, here's some solace for all concerned. While John F. Kennedy gets credit for saying, victory has a thousand fathers, people forget that he called it an old saying. It is actually during World War II that Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's foreign minister and his son-in-law as well, wrote in his diary: victory finds a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan.

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